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Interview: Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, The Directors of The Lion King - Page 2 of 2

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Directors talk about the 3D Release, Production, and Their Lives and Careers

Comic relief Timon and Pumbaa show up, just when a dejected young Simba and emotionally drained viewers need them.

Fun for the whole family!

What makes a really good children's movie, and can you name some new movies that live up to that?

Rob Minkoff: The key is to make something that works for both children and adults. I love the films Pixar has made like Finding Nemo and The Incredibles.

The themes treated in Lion King are among the deepest in animation: responsibility, father/son relationship, power, death... How did you approach the challenges of treating these topics?

Roger Allers: Sensitively but with great gusto!

Was there any concern that the movie might be too scary or adult for children?

Rob Minkoff: We found ourselves constantly re-balancing the film
to make sure there were enough comic elements to lighten the mood after the tragedy of Mufasa's death. Timon and Pumbaa really came along at the right time to give the film a lift and make it a more satisfying whole.

Do family movies always need to have happy endings?

Rob Minkoff: The Lion King is unusual in that the film really focuses on the death of Mufasa and how Simba has to come to terms with that. So in a sense, the film has very tragic elements. But ultimately there is reassurance in the final moments when we see that Simba and Nala have their own little lion cub. So yes, happy endings are important even though they may contain tragic elements. One of the most satisfying endings to a film is saying goodbye. It's true of The Wizard of Oz, E.T., Gone With The Wind, and many, many more.

The relationship between Simba and his Uncle Scar resembles that of Hamlet and Claudius from William Shakespeare's exalted play.

The Play's The Thing

Many people have noticed similarities to Hamlet in the story of The Lion King. Was that something you were conscious of when making the movie?

Rob Minkoff: Because The Lion King was considered an original story, there was always the need to anchor it with something familiar. When we first pitched the revised outline of the movie to Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Peter Schneider and Tom Schumacher, someone in the room announced that Hamlet was similar in its themes and relationships. Everyone responded favorably to the idea that we were doing something Shakespearean and so we continued to look for ways to model our film on that all-time classic.

The movie seems to have been influenced by past Disney movies like Bambi and other sources like Hamlet. Was that a deliberate choice to help you find the tone and direction you wanted to take the film?

Roger Allers: I'd definitely say that Bambi was an inspiration. The similarity to Hamlet was noticed only after we had come up with the story structure and had been working on it for a while.

The movie has a unique Shakespearean look. Are you a fan of Shakespeare works?

Rob Minkoff: Shakespeare is the greatest dramatist in history. His works have stood the test of time like no other. But it takes time to learn to appreciate Shakespeare and I was fortunate enough to grow up in Palo Alto, California, in a time and place where arts education was supported.

Roger Allers: I am indeed a fan, but the Hamlet parallels were discovered well after we had constructed the story. But I'd be happy if we had even unconsciously channeled the old Bard!

What is your opinion of The Lion King Broadway musical directed by Julie Taymor?

Rob Minkoff: When I first heard that a musical was being contemplated for The Lion King, I was concerned it would attempt to be too literal. Beauty and the Beast had already made the leap to the stage and it was very much a replica of the animated movie. I didn't think that kind of approach would work for The Lion King. When Julie Taymor was brought on board to re-imagine the musical for the stage, it was put into the right hands. Her approach to re-conceptualize the show, utilizing her brilliant sense of stagecraft brought out its theatricality and made it a unique experience. When I saw the show for the first time, I was delighted and gratified that our movie would live on on stage. And it hasn't disappointed, having been running since 1997.

Directors Rob Minkoff and Roger Allers pitch "The Lion King" in storyboard form to producer Don Hahn in a making-of featurette from the Blu-ray.


What do you think is the future of animation?

Rob Minkoff: When I got started back in the early '80s, it seemed that animation was on its way out. But today there are more animated features, TV shows, commercials, and content of all kinds being produced. So I'm very bullish on animation. I think, eventually, more films will be made with more diverse content to reach audiences of all ages, and that animation finally achieves a level of respect that equals any other kind of filmmaking.

Roger Allers: I think the field will continue to open up in terms of technique and subject matter.
The line between animated and live action has already become so blurred, the entire distinction may disappear.

How do you feel the animated movie industry has changed since The Lion King first came out?

Roger Allers: I see more movies of different styles coming from many more studios now. It's exciting. Bring 'em on!

What do you prefer, classic 2D or computer animation?

Rob Minkoff: I think computer animation has vastly improved over the years and has achieved a similar quality to traditionally hand-drawn animation. That said, nothing can replace the look and feel of human drawings. So I think there is room in the world for both, each with its own unique strengths and weaknesses.

Do you feel like the changes are for the better in the animated film industry?

Roger Allers: The increase in diversity is really welcome, but I hope that traditional hand-drawn animation keeps being produced. It's an art form that's dear to my heart and one that I don't think has still been fully explored.

Rob, you went from animation to live action/animation with Stuart Little and live action with Haunted Mansion. What are the differences between directing animation and directing live action? and in directing animators (actors with a pencil) and live actors?

Rob Minkoff: Hugh Laurie once asked me if I wanted to erase his eyebrows and sketch in something else. There is a mistaken notion that directing animators is easier than live actors. It isn't. Animators are just as difficult. Especially the really good ones.

Rob, what's more difficult: directing live action movies (such as The Forbidden Kingdom) or animated ones?

Rob Minkoff: The Forbidden Kingdom was an incredible challenge because we made the film entirely in China. And Jackie Chan and Jet Li are the two biggest martial arts stars in the world. They were very competitive but had a great rapport off camera.

Rob, do you have any plans to return to animation?

Rob Minkoff: I am actually working on a new animated movie right now. It's based on the classic characters Mr. Peabody and Sherman who originally appeared on the "Rocky & Bullwinkle" show. We have Robert Downey Jr. on board playing the genius dog who adopts a red-headed human boy.

Simba, Timon, and Pumbaa lay back and speculate about the stars in one of the most beloved movies of all time.

The Lion King's Legacy

It's a great pleasure for me, as a journalist and as a fan, to have the chance to congratulate you two for the excellent job in The Lion King, one of the greatest Disney movies ever. What do you think about this wonderful experience?

Rob Minkoff: It's been very gratifying not only to have made this film, but that audiences have gotten so much enjoyment from it.

Now it seems inevitable The Lion King would become a classic, but how much of a risk did it seems when you were making it?

Roger Allers: The Lion King was the step-child project when we started at the studio. Developing it was a hard but satisfying journey. You can never know in advance how something will turn out, and even if you like it, whether it will be a success.

When you were making The Lion King, could you ever imagine that it would have become such a classic Disney film?

Rob Minkoff: When we started working on The Lion King, we were fourth in a succession of modern Disney animated classics. First it was Little Mermaid, then Beauty and the Beast, and finally Aladdin. They were all tough acts to follow. We only hoped we would be compared favorably and not disappoint the Disney fans that had been growing with each new hit. It wasn't until we finished [the opening] "Circle of Life" [sequence] and put it into theaters as a trailer that we knew we had something special. But we were never overly confident. So we continued to work hard to deliver a good movie.

How does it feel to be an integral part of the Disney Renaissance?

Roger Allers: When I was a kid, I always dreamed of going to work for Walt Disney and make animated features. In high school, when Walt died I was crushed and thought I had missed my chance. I am thrilled and proud to be a part of the "Second Wave"!

Rob Minkoff: As a young boy, I was an ardent Disney fan. Some would say Disney Geek. So for me, getting the chance to work at the studio and help revitalize animation is more than a dream come true.

Slideshow - Behind-the-scenes photos from the making of The Lion King:

What about The Lion King makes it a classic?

Rob Minkoff: I think it's a combination of classic coming-of-age story with an incredible musical score by Elton John, one of pop music's most prolific and successful composers. Plus, the overall design of the production and look of the characters make The Lion King feel like a traditional Disney Classic.

Roger Allers: It's the balance of humor and drama and the resonance of its themes. The issues of life and death, and loss. The responsibilities of leadership and finding one's place in life.

What was the most unexpected way that The Lion King made its way into your life outside the animation industry?

Rob Minkoff: "Hakuna matata" has become a phrase recognized around the world.
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And every time we get kidded on TV, including the recent Emmy Awards, it's very gratifying. It's nice to have a little shelf space in the pop culture universe.

What do you think of The Lion King after 17 years?

Roger Allers: I still love this movie. I've been involved with the stage show all these intervening years so for me it's never gone away! But I'm so pleased with the audience's positive response to this new release after all these years.

How surprised are you that you're still doing interviews about The Lion King after all these years?

Rob Minkoff: It's odd because so much time has passed and yet it feels like only a short while ago that we made the film.

Watch a clip from the film featuring the Oscar-winning song "Can You Feel the Love Tonight":

Any final thoughts on The Lion King as we close out this virtual roundtable?

Rob Minkoff: After 17 years it's been an amazing journey on The Lion King. One that I hope continues on, like the Circle of Life. Thanks for joining us in this virtual round table. Looking forward to the next time we all meet virtually or otherwise!

Roger Allers: I'm so happy that audiences are able to experience The Lion King in a theatre on a big screen with other viewers. It's the communal experience, you know? Let's gather at Pride Rock, join the circle, and tell our tales.

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Related Interview: Tony Bancroft (Pumbaa's supervising animator) | Related Giveaway: Win The Lion King: Blu-ray + DVD!

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Directors talk about the 3D Release, Production, and Their Lives and Careers

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Published September 30, 2011. Interview conducted September 23, 2011.